Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The £11 Christmas dinner - plan now for 2012.

I know Christmas is past but in order to have a relaxed, organised and cheap Christmas now is the time to plan it.  
We watched a programme on iplayer (as we very occasionally do) about how to make a Christmas dinner for eight people for ‘only’ £50.  To us, that seemed like an awful lot of money for just one meal.  But then we don’t want to work full time to pay for all that stuff.  so I decided to cost our Christmas dinner.  It is always more than you think, once the extras are added in.

Admittedly the family concerned had been spending £1200 on just that one meal. It was big shift for them and very well done.  It got me thinking though because £50 for one meal seemed so extravagant and there are people in the world who are starving.

The same meal can be done for a lot less and no one would even notice the difference.  Just take out the impulse buys that you thought would make it perfect they will probably only sit in the cupboard anyway. 
You would be hard pressed to know which meal was the £50 one and which was our £11 one.  Yes, really.
Judging by the amount left on people’s plates after their £50 meal on that TV programme there was still way too much food.  There was lots left in the serving dishes too.   I hope they had a cook in and made lots more dishes out of it.  By that I mean the veg, stuffing and everything else not just the turkey.  It would provide meals for weeks to come.
Actually our £11 Christmas dinner is providing meals for weeks to come too.

With a food budget of £50 we could easily provide open house and feel whoever came along for a week.  And feed them well. 

Before Christmas some of us are groaning ‘let’s just get this over with’ and others are saying ‘I love Christmas’. 
My First question is this:  Are you religious and if not, what do you love about it?  Shopping?  Cooking?  All the family in one place? Turkey?  Those things are all fine but only the first one needs to cost a lot of money.   Analyse what you really love and focus the spending there rather than trying to do it all.
My second question is: Do you still love it in January when the credit card bill comes in? 

There is certainly lots of marketing and advertising to make us think that presents, decorations, too much food and the ideal family is what Christmas is about.  Without spending money, the story goes you cannot have a good Christmas.

The family in the mythical ad we have all seen has:
·         A large enough living room for that jumbo sized Dobbies pre-decorated £500 (now reduced to £250) Christmas tree without having to sit round it. 
·         The ideal gift every time – not for them the gift that results from no one knowing what to buy each other.
·         The perfect family who all want to do the same thing at Christmas and never get bored or stuck in an airport.
·         Lots of money and a large house.  Money is no object here they just buy what they like.

the main course
The £11 Christmas dinner
It is different each year, but it is always cheap, always good and always opportunistic. 
Christmas dinner cost us around £11 this year for four people.  Last year it was a bit more and the year before it was a lot less.  The amount of food we had would have easily fed 8 people so the aforementioned £50 Christmas dinner on the TV programme would have cost much the same as our 4 person dinner did.   
The large bags of veg were such good value that I  bought them anyway and froze the surplus.  There was enough turkey left over for several more meals.

 In those years when it has cost  us more – say £20 because of buying  a full sized turkey – that turkey and any other associated leftovers will make many, many meals for months to come.  In fact we just had the last 2 slices of turkey breast from last year’s turkey the week before Christmas.  Sometimes we have kept half of the turkey in the freezer for the following Christmas. 

How I did the costings
In the costings below I have included the full purchase cost even if there was quite a bit of the item left.  If I just costed what we actually used the true cost would be about £5 I reckon.
If something came out of the cupboard and was half eaten (eg the oatcakes and Bombay mix) I have still included the whole cost (with the exception of the custard.)  even if we already had it and did not use it all.
Using what you have saves a lot of money for  a meal like this of course but costing it anyway means I know I am not cheating.

It’s all in the planning
The trick is to think ahead.  Think of Christmas (or any other ‘big meal’ event such as a wedding or birthday) all year.  Just keep it in mind and keep your eyes open.

Make sure it has your favourite foods in it.
Adapt any suggestions to encompass everyone’s favourite foods and the meal will be a hit.  We love veg and smoked salmon and like to eat healthily – hence the simple starter below. 

Think over all cost
It is the overall cost of your weekly food budget that is important not just the cost of this one meal.  So if for instance you get a turkey the size of a house reduced to £10, that may be better value than a small one for £5.  The ‘cost’ of Christmas dinner may seem more on the face of it but you are actually saving money.
My daughter got an absolutely huge turkey reduced to £7 last year.  We reckon it was just too big for most people – and most ovens.  Just cut it in half and cook it in two pieces. 
If you cook both halves, keep one half for next Christmas.  Or slice it up and freeze the slices in bags (put just a few slices in each bag) to use for other meals or sandwiches.

The Turkey
We bought this year’s turkey on Boxing Day last year.  It was a fresh, humanely reared turkey crown and suddenly was not worth very much.  The frozen ones did not go down in price but the fresh ones sure did and we got it for £2/$3.  The thing is, the planning takes very little time – just pause to think once in a while, and keep your eyes open when out shopping throughout the year.

The nibbles and starter.
Smoked salmon at £2.50/$3.75 a packet along with oatcakes at 79p/$1.20.  Served with the remaining carrot sticks and raw broccoli florets.  Very tasty, healthy and got a big thumbs up.  You can pay a lot more for very special smoked salmon but this was on offer and tasted fine.

To nibble on before dinner there was half a packet of Bombay Mix (1.20 a packet) and crudites - chopped up raw carrot and broccoli florets with a few chopped raw brussel sprouts because I am partial to them like that even if no one else was!
There were lots of oatcakes left and the veg is costed in the main meal.  No Bombay Mix left because I ate it all – that’ll teach me.
Total starter and nibbles cost £4.49

the veg was good gravy on this one too
The veg
The parsnips and leeks were grown in the garden.  We dug them up in advance just in case the ground was frozen at Christmas.  There is lots of other veg in the freezer.  We would normally eat what  we have so it might be broad beans and cabbage instead of brussel sprouts.  The potatoes cost £1 for a bag and we used about half of them. 
We had roasted and boiled potatoes.  the gravy was made from the stock in the turkey tray.
This year we were taking dinner to my daughter’s house so I decided to buy brussel sprouts and be traditional.  They cost £1/$1.50 for a very large packet on special offer.
Guess what - they don’t like brussel sprouts and we don’t eat them often (nice shredded in salads though) so I needn’t have bothered.  The carrots were 40p/60c a kilo and we used about a quarter of them.  The quantity of veg could have have easily fed 10 people so lots left for the freezer.  (And we eat a lot of veg.)  The broccoli was also £1/$1.50. 
There seemed to be some really good last minute offers on veg this year for Christmas. 
Total veg cost £3.40/$5.10 with lots left over, both cooked and uncooked.

A bargain Christmas pud
The 20p/30c Christmas puddings
In July we bought ten Christmas puddings for 20p each and gave quite a few away.  They were ‘extra special’ ones with a best before date of Nov 2012.  Not that it would have mattered if the date was past, a ‘best before’ just means it might not taste quite so good and we could have kept them in the freezer.  We added custard made from a tin at about 40p cost including the milk. 
Total pudding cost 40p/60c

And the cake? 
We usually start it on Boxing Day as there is more than enough food on Christmas Day without it.  A friend gave us a lovely dumpling when we had a recent get together.  Hardly any was eaten but she generously gave us the rest as a gift. A Scottish dumpling is a wonderful moist fruit cake rather than something you eat with stew and hers are legendary. 
I had some marzipan in the freezer that was also bought last year at a reduced price.  I think it was 50p but cannot quite remember.  I looked at icing sugar and it was twice the price of ordinary sugar for half as much. 

So I made my own with granulated sugar which is very simple.

How to make icing sugar
Put the sugar in a blender or food processor and process until it turns into a powder.   Takes about 2 minutes.  Cost about 30p. lots left over.

The cake was delicious and no one could tell the difference.   In fact it was voted better than ‘normal’ Christmas cake.
Total cost for cake 80p/$1.20

Christmascrackers on the table
Christmas crackers
We bought a box of 12 last year but not everyone wanted one and only four got used.  This year there were only four of us anyway so another four got used.  There are now four left for next year.
A couple of tips here:
1.  I put a note in my diary in November and another in December saying ‘do not buy crackers there are some in the loft.’  Do the same with anything else you buy as a bargain and you will not forget and end up buying more.

2.  Get the crackers out of the loft a couple of weeks early and keep them in a warm room to make sure they are not damp – or no bang when you pull them!
3.  Make your own crackers or just give little party bags – do they really need to go bang anyway?
Total cost Zero – these were costed in last year’s dinner.

What was left over
There was masses of food left over.  We gave my daughter and her boyfriend lots of turkey slices to keep them going and put a load in our own freezer too.  There was half a bag of brussel sprouts and another of carrots left.  There were also cooked carrots, sprouts  and broccoli which were made into soup (carrots) and bubble and squeak (sprouts, potatoes and broccoli). Most of the box of oatcakes was also left but we ate all the smoked salmon.  (mostly me actually)
And as usual the cake kept going for another week even though it had not seemed very large to start with. And I only used half of it.  I just got the other half out of the freezer today.  We could have had a larger Christmas cake but the small one felt nice and was loads.

Its different every year
Now its easy to think ‘But I didn’t get given a dumpling/find a bargain turkey etc so I can’t do it for the same price.’
It is different every year but keep an eye out and be creative and something will come up.
Here are some ideas:
·        Buy a turkey and keep half in the freezer for next year.
·         Freeze any left over veg so that it is not wasted.  Remember it is the overall cost of eating that is important not just the cost of that one meal.
·         Get a chicken or other meat instead of a turkey
·         If you are vegetarian ignore the Christmas dinner conventions altogether and just have a nice meal.  Do not feel honour bound to replicate what is actually a rather simple meat and two veg meal anyway. 
·         If you are a meat eater, ignore the Christmas dinner convention and just cook a nice meal too!
·         Use what you have.  We had a pheasant one year because we got given one.  Another year we had trout.  We were given some fish by a friend and one was huge.  So we kept if for Christmas dinner.
·         Keep a look out in the shops all year round.


  1. very interesting post. extravagance and waste are starting to make me feel physically sick, so I'm trying hard to live a simple life with a lot less stuff.

  2. its so hard to do,even in the current climate isn't it? I often feel like an (almost) lone voice in the wilderness. And there are so many messages that make me want more stuff...

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